Review of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887, Part 2
In a recent post I began describing this 1887 book written by Edward Bellamy. Here is more about the author.
“We ask to put forth just our strength, our human strength,
All starting fairly, all equipped alike.
But when full roused, each giant limb awake,
Each sinew strung, the great heart pulsing fast,
He shall start up and stand on his own earth,
Then shall his long, triumphant march begin,
Thence shall his being date.”
“This great poet’s lines express Edward Bellamy’s aim in writing his famous book. That aim would realize in our country’s daily being the Great Declaration that gave us national existence; would, in equality of opportunity, give man his own earth to stand on, and thereby—the race for the first time enabled to enter unhampered upon the use of its God-given possibilities—achieve a progress unexampled and marvelous.”
The above quote is from Sylvester Baxter’s introduction, “The Author of ‘Looking Backward’”. According to Baxter, Bellamy had a steadfast faith in the intrinsic goodness of human nature, a sense of the meaning of love in its true and universal sense. Bellamy was born in 1850 in Massachusetts, the son of a beloved clergyman and grandson of an early pastor of Springfield. Among his ancestors was Dr. Joseph Bellamy, a distinguished theologian, friend of Jonathan Edwards, and although the author outgrew the religious practices of his family, they still marked his views with a strongly anti-materialistic and spiritual cast.
As I read, I found similarities between Bellamy’s ideals and these early years of the 21st century. An ethical purpose dominated his ideas, and he held that a merely material prosperity would not be worth the working for, as a social ideal. I look at society in the recent decades—1990s and 2000s especially—as ones with a focus on material prosperity, and the current society—the 2010s—as beginning to focus more on working for the betterment of mankind, rather than the largest net-worth.
As I have noticed in what I’ve read about creative types such as artists and writers, the author’s start in life was somewhat divergent. He attended college but did not graduate; he studied law in Germany but didn’t practice. His travels to Hawaii by way of Panama preceded his decision to pursue a literary career, beginning as a journalist. He began his literary career by writing imaginative short stories for magazines, one review calling the author “the lineal intellectual descendant” of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
When Looking Backward was the sensation of the year, newspapers claimed that Bellamy was “posing for notoriety” (the meaning of the word “notoriety” in 1890 apparently meaning fame, rather than a bad reputation). But Sylvester Baxter believes that the author was indifferent to all the offers of advertising, lecturing, publishing opportunities that would have earned him large sums of money.
While writing his last book, Equality, an elaboration and sequel to Looking Backward, his health gave way. In 1897 he and his family went to Denver, seeking a cure for consumption. During that year, letters came from mining camps, farms, and villages wanting to do something for him to show their love. He was 2000 miles from home, yet found himself among friends because in ten years his book had sold a million copies in U.S. and England, and had been translated into many languages and dialects.
He returned to his home in New England and died in 1898. At the simple service held, some passages from his books were read as a fitting expression in his own words of that hope for the bettering and uplifting of humanity, which was the real passion of his noble life.
“If we love one another, God dwells in us and his love is perfected in us…He that loves his brother dwells in the light…If any man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar…he that does not love, does not know God. Here is the very distillation of Christ’s teaching as to the conditions of entering on the divine life.”
You can find printed copies of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887 on Amazon, and free ebooks of this book at Gutenberg.org.
[More of this 19th century author’s vision of the “new order of the year 2000” coming in Part 3 of my review of Looking Backward 2000 – 1887]